TORONTO - City school officials say they have plans in place to help keep pupils, students and staff safe during a variety of emergencies.
In the wake of the recent school shooting in Connecticut, the district is going to review district safety strategies for the coming year with a staff in-service meeting set for 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 in the high school library, according to Maureen Taggart, district communications coordinator and high school principal.
"The entire district staff is invited to attend the meeting," said Taggart. "Obviously, with the events in Connecticut, everyone's thinking about the safety of pupils, students and staff in schools."
Taggart said the district has taken the idea of school security seriously in recent years, making changes, including establishment of video surveillance and locked doors.
"We do have a district safety committee that includes Mark Blasko, our (district) safety director, Katie Long, our district nurse, myself and Superintendent Fred Burns," continued Taggart. "The safety committee plans all the safety training and in-services provided to the staff. We're also in charge of receiving any reports about safety concerns in the district."
Taggart said both the high school and Karaffa Elementary School have electronic security and surveillance systems at entrances.
"The locks have to be released by someone in the school office," Taggart said. "All exterior doors are locked down after students and pupils arrive. Once they report to class, the doors are locked."
Visitors to district buildings also have to report to the office once let inside the building, she continued.
"We require all visitors to register and sign in (at the office) and wear a visitors' badge so all staff, students and pupils know they are authorized to be there," Taggart said.
The district safety committee also designs a safety plan for different emergency scenarios, including everything from a fire to a chemical spill, said Taggart, adding all staff are required to have a copy and study the plan. The district also must submit the plan to the Ohio Department of Public Safety for approval, she added.
"Our plan recently was approved by the state," said Taggart. "It's a very extensive plan. We have provided copies and training to the staff and made ourselves available for any questions about the guidelines in place.
"You never know how you're going to react in an emergency situation," Taggart continued. "The guidelines enable (staff) to collect their thoughts during an emergency. One of the recent concerns that came to our attention was making sure substitute teachers have keys to the classrooms they are assigned to."
Taggart said the district regularly drills, and the City Police periodically inspect the buildings.
"We have the police come in with canine units," she said, adding it gives the schools an opportunity to practice drills. "When they show up, we go into lockdown mode, even through it's not an emergency.
"We're also doing everything we can to make students and staff aware about safety issues," Taggart continued, adding the district is trying to make those in school aware and report suspicious activity. "We also have a social educator in the district. She works with at-risk students and pupils. She connects them with a variety of services available to support families."
The high school also has an organization designed to enable students to speak to their peers concerning any issues that may be bothering them.
"It's called P.A.W.S., which stands for Prevention and Wellness Services, and it was founded here by two of our seniors," she said.
"We have more than 100 students participating in it. It just provides a peer to listen and lean on."
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)